What every artist can learn from Malcolm Young
It simply will not suffice to say Malcolm Young was a good guitar player, or a “nice” addition to the human race, and that we hope he rests gently and easy. I fear his creative genius is at risk of going unrecognized, if we leave it at that.
You often hear people say all AC/DC songs sound the same. I, however, would say all AC/DC songs sound like they come from AC/DC, and there is something to be learned from that. Malcolm did what every artist person aims at, but often fails to attain: He made art that connected with people without compromising his creative soul.
He understood that for something to catch on it had to be familiar yet unique, original yet relatable.
P + OS
Predictability with an occasional surprise: That was the formula that made AC/DC such an interesting band. Their riffs are basic, everyday chords with SOMETIMES unusual rhythms. If the rhythms were ALWAYS unusual, or the chords not basic, nor everyday, they would connect with no one, and Hells Bells would not be the anthem of every major sporting event that it is today.
Predictability is what makes a work of art accessible. The occasional surprise, however, is what causes it to last. In the first sense, Malcolm didn’t write “above” people. He wrote right at their level. I forget it it was him or Angus who said it, but when asked how they come up with their songs, they said, “We write riffs for the common man.” That’s predictability.
Yet, then, somehow, at the same time, Thunderstruck arrives, and you realize you’ve never heard anything like it. The chords are basic, the rhythms fairly familiar. But it’s that occasional surprise–that THUNDER!–that secured its place in our hearts forever and always.
You can take this formula, and apply it to any creative effort: Predictability with the occasional surprise. (P+OS).
In writing P+OS means using short words and short sentences, most of the time, but then dropping, in good taste, the unexpected, occasional big word. I once used the word pulchritude, and people loved it and asked where it came from. I told them I didn’t know. I still don’t know where the word pulchritude came from; still don’t know what the word pulchritude means. But inserting a word like pulchritude every now and then can make things interesting, which is sometimes more important than having things make sense. Yet, on the other hand, if your sentences are full of all these slithering, sesquipedalian adjectives, well… good luck. Because ain’t nobody got time for that. You’ve failed to make your art accessible.
THIS–P+OS–is what AC/DC understood better than most any band, and that, I would say, is what made them so adored by people like me. I have bought every AC/DC album, every AC/DC DVD and boxset, and they will always be the most memorable concert I’ve attended. I still recall with trembling the night I saw them in 2001. Nothing has ever compared.